On November 18th, we kicked off our EMEA Influential Women in Data series. As a company, diversity and inclusion is at the very core of our leadership and our company. We’re lucky enough to interact with incredible talent on a daily basis amongst our clients and teams – talent that this series aims to showcase.
Our first interviewee was Helen Davis, Assistant Director of IT and Digital at West Midlands Police (WMP). Helen is the mastermind behind West Midlands digital strategy, placing data at the heart of improving policing operations to the benefit of the communities that they serve. Helen’s vision and tenacity have seen her forge an incredibly successful career and I sat down with her to ask about her journey and the advice she would give to others.
You’ve been in the technology industry for 25 years, in that time have attitudes towards women in data and IT changed?
I started my career in HMRC, and I can distinctly remember being told on my first day, ‘If you want to work in IT, you’ll need to be more male than the men.’ And accordingly, I was assigned a male line manager and spent a lot of time making tea and sorting the stationery cupboard. I’ve never been sure if that’s because of my junior position or because I was a woman.
Either way, I didn’t want to be ‘more male,’ I wanted to be true to me. I might have been operating in – and still do – in a male-dominated environment, but that didn’t mean I should change who I was. In hindsight, this was my first learning about how I wanted to build my career.
It also threw into sharp light that I didn’t want to focus on differences. But of course, not everyone shares this perspective and I have been marked out as different throughout my career, and continue to be so, because I am a woman. Progress has been made over the last two decades, but when it comes to gender diversity there is still much to be done. Many people I meet outside of WMP make the assumption that the Assistant Director will be a man, and upon me entering the room dismiss me as the tea maker. I’d like to think that in 2020 there was more open-mindedness, but the reality is that there isn’t. I’m not afraid to call out bias or ill-judged behaviour, because I hope that by doing so that the individual will take the time to think about what they’ve said and question their assumptions.
What led you to work for West Midlands Police?
I was asked to lead the Force’s digital transformation. This was no easy task – and it’s exactly why I relished it. When I joined, to describe our IT environment as legacy would have been generous. IT said ‘no’ a lot of time because it simply wasn’t equipped with the capabilities, resources, and the technologies to meet user demand. After the transformation, I was hooked because for the first time in my career I was able to see the tangible impact our work was having on front-line policing and therefore the public. The culture was also incredibly important to me. At WMP diversity is celebrated. I’m judged on my results, not my gender.
Can you tell me a little more about the data insights project?
My job is to ensure that we’re able to utilise the latest and greatest technology available to us. To give you some background, West Midlands is the second-largest force in the country, serving a population of 2.8 million and fielding over 2,000 emergency calls every day. Major cities that our territory covers include Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. With 11,500 employees, we process a lot of data.
The Data Driven Insights project, a first for policing in the UK, is a cutting edge initiative to radically improve the Force’s data and analytics capabilities. With Cloudera at its core, we’ve been able to deliver real benefits including:
Crimes Visual Analytics Apps. Key decision makers can now track a host of KPIs related to reported crimes across the West Midlands region. This is used to improve how WMP deploy their resources to combat specific crime types across specific regions
- Enhanced Incident Management Performance Apps. Allows more tactical decision-making based on 999 calls and officers’ availability which was previously a purely manual process
- ML to Enhance Crime Detection and Response. The analytics platform allows WMP to investigate and identify a list of offenders whose criminal activity placed the largest burden on the police force. This enables the police force to target early interventions on those with known KPI attributes to re-offend to minimise future effects to society
West Midlands Police was nominated as a Finalist for the Data Impacts Awards 2020 in the Enterprise Data Cloud category. Learn more about it, here.
But it doesn’t end there does it?
Absolutely not. I firmly believe that with great technology comes great responsibility. The West Midlands is one of the most diverse communities in the UK, and indeed the EU. Rightly, our community wants to know that we’re using data responsibly. We are committed to being 100% transparent and have proactively set up a Data Ethics committee, whose role it is to monitor the use of machine learning and automation and that the Force is, at all times, adhering to best practice.
WMP is the first police force in the UK to hire its own data scientists, data engineers and visualisation specialists to develop this capability in house. It is also the first force in the UK to build, with the Police and Crime Commissioner, its own bespoke data ethics committee into its processes. I am incredibly proud of this project and our hope is that we become a pathfinder for other forces.
What would your advice to your younger self be?
I’ve always been incredibly pragmatic, but I think a real ‘ah ha’ moment for me was when I heard the following quote from Ann Frank: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
It really resonated with me. I think all too often it’s easy to think that it’s someone else’s ‘job’ to tackle diversity or bias. But the simple truth is that we all have a role to play in challenging the status quo, because if we don’t then nothing will change. When women are well represented within the workplace, society undoubtedly benefits.
To find out more about the Influential Women in Data Series please click here.
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